Commentary

France's new champions, young, innocent and adored

France's victory in Sunday's World Cup touched off wild celebrations across France on Sunday night and continued on Monday with the parade by Les Bleus down the Champs-Elysees and their reception at the Palais de l'Elysee.



What was most remarkable about the celebrations were how genuine they were. Fans took to the streets by the hundreds of thousands, climbed statues and jumped off bridges into rivers in sheer joy.

I was in France for the first three weeks of the World Cup and except for days that France played there was no more interest than what you'd find in a major metropolitan area at home. On days France played, you knew right away when game-time approached as everyone ran off to gatherings in blue national team jerseys.

(Nike is going to make a killing on the sale of "le maillot à deux étoiles," the French jersey with two stars. It sold out online in five minutes. In 1998, adidas sold 800,000 jerseys when France won the World Cup, and that record should be easily shattered by Christmas.)

The mood was generally subdued, though, until Les Bleus turned it on in the knockout stage. What became apparent with each passing win is how adored the players are.

The 1998 champions were Les “Black-Blanc-Beur” — a mix of white, black and Arab players. The 2018 team is even more clearly dominated by children of immigrants, almost all African immigrants, many of them, like Kylian Mbappe, Paul Pogba and N'Golo Kante, products of the Paris banlieues around the Île-de-France.

In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris in 2015 and Nice in 2016, France is deeply ambiguous about welcoming immigrants. President Emmanuel Macron, who was in Moscow for Sunday's victory, has taken a tough stand. But you never could tell by how Les Bleus have been embraced.

What is most striking about the 2018 championship team is its youth.

In 1998, most of the players were older, more established and set in their ways, creating certain headaches for Coach Aime Jacquet.

Didier Deschamps' greatest achievement in leading Les Bleus to the 2018 World Cup was getting a bunch of kids -- he had 14 players under the age of 26, six under the age of 23 -- to buy into the idea that with hard work and sacrifice they could achieve their dream of winning the World Cup. Monday was the 55th day -- one day short of eight weeks -- they had been together on the road or in camp.

The innocence of Deschamps' new champions was evident in the songs they streamed on their smartphones Sunday night. As was the unbridled adoration of the French public toward its young heroes.

We'll have more on the World Cup as the week goes on.

-- In praise of the salary cap ...

While the 2018 Bleus were wrapping up their World Cup, one of the '98ers, Patrick Vieira, was getting down to work at his new club, Nice. In an interview in Tuesday's France Football, he says his time coaching in MLS with NYCFC was a "bonne école" ("good training"), specifically the salary gap. He said it forced him to be diligent about whom he signed because if he made a mistake he didn't have room to cover up for that mistake and sign another player.

-- Baby steps, but steps in the right direction -->

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